Last night at Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Congregation we began our study using Brian McLaren's book 'The Great Spiritual Migration'.
As well as reading the book as a group we purchased the book on CD. When we meet, we will listen to Brian read the book to us and stop at the end of each section to ask questions, clarify meaning and share thoughts and reflections. So far we have covered the preface and part of the introduction.
Migration is a key word in the book. People have always been on the move. Many animals and birds migrate, adapting to the changing seasons. As we listened to Brian we thought about our empty church buildings and people long gone. There is an eerie emptiness in them and a distinctive church smell, People have moved on or rather moved out of the area and out of the church and the new people who have moved in have little connection with our church community. We thought about the desire for us to move out of the church too. Some desire a more lively expression of worship, some desire a more grounded expression of living out their faith and some desire freedom from the church's teaching and expectations (a cage as Brian puts it).
The book calls us to get going, to move forward in the journey of faith, to move from seeing Christian faith as a system of beliefs to rediscovering Christian faith as 'a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion.' Brian puts is as moving from an organised religion with a timeless system of beliefs to an "organising religion" that challenges all institutions (including the church) to learn, to grow and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbour, enemy and creation.
I felt myself very much included in the book when Brian spoke about us being offered again and again two ways of being irrelevant: a regressive movement on one side with updated styles and structures and an outdated message; and on the other side a progressive bureaucracy with an updated message with outdated styles and structures. I felt part of the second group, my message has changed or changing, but the style and structures are largely outdated. I also felt part of the group that is preoccupied with formalities, committees and traditions, therefore sucking even more life out of the church.
We thought about the word 'conversion'; about becoming different, learning to iive life in a new way, a deeper aliveness, a better version of life, a truer version of Christian faith. The last image we were introduced to was of a house that had fallen into disrepair. Should we knock the whole thing down and start again or simply add another coat of paint? Brian suggested careful demolition, not for destruction but for salvation. He suggests that now is the time to move beyond knocking down all that we find wrong with the church and instead focus on construction, to identify what we are moving forward to and what we want to build.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation